The Winter Vault by Anne Michaels

9781408801086Anne Michael’s writing is meant to be absorbed slowly. In every brief exchange, every lyrical conversation and every heartbreaking image, you feel the presences, absences and essences that pervade in the lives of the characters, and also your own life. No other author has taught me so much about the universality of loss, about finding beauty in broken places, about how beautiful and alive with love everything in the world is – even death.

I took down so many lines as I went along and it felt almost sacrilegious, to be removing the words from the book. I actually enjoyed this book more than Fugitive Pieces, perhaps because over the past year my mind has become more able to receive the sensitivities in the author’s writing. Perhaps also because there is a lot in this book about mothers and fathers and children, a subject which always pulls at my heart.


(1) “My life formed around an absence. Every bit of pleasure, each window of lamplight against the night snow, the drowsy smell of the summer roses, attached itself to the fact of her absence. Everything in this world is what has been left behind”

(2) “I think we each have only one or two philosophical or political ideas in our life, one or two organizing principles during our whole life, and all the rest falls from there…”

(3) “Long after you’ve forgotten someone’s voice, said Jean, you can still remember the sound of their happiness or their sadness. You can feel it in your body.”

(4) “– Daughters don’t stop crying for their mothers, Marina said, and I had ten more years with mine than you had with yours. We long for our mothers more, not less. Suddenly she jumped up and rushed to the oven. The seed biscuits had shrivelled into charcoal. She opened the window and the winter air filled the kitchen.

— It’s like a spell, said Marina. Nothing eat away time like the past”

(5) “In every childhood there is a door that closes, Marina had said. And: only real love waits while we journey through our grief. That is the real trustworthiness between people. In all the epics, in all the stories that have lasted through many lifetimes, it is always the same truth: love must wait for wounds to heal.”

(6) “Every object,” my father used to say, “is also a concept.” If you place two or three or ten things next to each other than have never been next to each other before, this will produce a new concept. And nothing proves the existence of a future like a question…”

(7) “—We do not like to think about children’s fears, Marina had said one afternoon in the weeks alone with Jean. We push them aside to concentrate on their innocence. But children are close to grief, they are closer to grief than we are. They feel it, undiluted, and then gradually they grow away from that flesh-knowledge. They know all about the terror of the woods, the witch-mother, things buried and not seen again. In every child’s fear is always the fear of the worst thing, the loss of the person they love most”

(8) “We must learn the value of each other’s words, what they cost”

(9) “Love permeates everything, the world is saturated with it, or is emptied of it. Always this beautiful or this bereft”

(10) “The past does not change, nor our need for it. What must change is the way of telling.”

(11) “For better or for worse, said Marina, slowly rising from her chair, love is a catastrophe.”

(12) “A moment passes, with all its possibilities. All that love allows us, and does not allow.”


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